The Buddy Capers

Buddy went to his first cyclocross race of the season in Rochester, in that lovely Olmstead designed park. Buddy is fond of children, the smaller the better, although I suspect he likes the babies in strollers primarily for the stuffed toys wedged in the stroller with them. He is gentle, though, as he roots out the toys and tugs them from their dark corners. Some babies think this is funny and gurgle with delight as they see their stuffed alligators or teddy bears making their way in Buddy’s careful mouth to the light of day; others become upset as they see their toys changing hands. They are probably future Republicans.


Buddy had satisfying exchanges with three sets of children that weekend. The first was a tiny infant being carried by its mother in a front-harness baby holder. I had Buddy in his own backpack, on my back. In case you haven’t seen it, Buddy sits in the pack with his head and one leg visible, looking like, as someone observed, “a cabby with his arm hanging out.” When the infant saw Buddy on my back, his neutral expression creased into a slow, serene, appreciative smile. Really, it was just like having a Buddhist monk smile at us.

The second was a group of three siblings. They asked, (as most children do these days) if they could pet Buddy, who had trotted right up to them. He nestled himself into the center of the three as they crowded around, gently patting and exclaiming about how soft he was.

“I like how his mouth does this,” said the littlest boy and made a small moue.

“I wish we could have a dog. We might get one,” said the middle child, a small boy, with an Arab name.

“We won’t get one,” said his older sister, who had early adolescent pimples and braces but who seemed full of joy. She hadn’t said it to be mean, I could tell. There are disappointments in life, she seemed to know already, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. I really liked those kids.

The third encounter was a little four-or-five-year-old who marched up, and asked to pet Buddy.

“Sure,” I said. “He likes people who are little.”

As soon as I said that, I knew it was wrong and the child set me straight at once.

“I’m not little,” he said without rancor.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”

Facts restored, he proceeded to pet Buddy. “What’s his name?”

“Buddy,” I said. He paused, his face wrinkled in puzzlement. “What’s his nickname?”

I cracked up. Because, really, he had a point.

“Little potato,” I said, and now the boy cracked up.

An hour or so later, Buddy and I were near the finish line and I heard a shrill, piping voice behind us, getting louder, “His nickname is little potato.”

I looked around. The not-little kid was ushering a group of friends over to us.

“His nickname is little potato,” he informed them again, bending down to pet Buddy proprietarily.



Manners, People. Manners

Yesterday, Richie and I were in Rockport, Massachusetts, a picturesque little town on Cape Ann. There, we got into conversation with a resident. He talked about his work (owning and managing apartments) and how much he missed his wife of fifty-eight years who had recently died. We were three humans, connecting. Then I looked up and saw in his window, a sign: “Proud to be a member of the basket of deplorables.” Oh dear, I thought, a trump supporter. {Still!} We carried on talking in our friendly way and Richie mentioned that we were here for the Gran Prix Cyclocross race. I could feel the man pull back, in much the same way I had when I read his sign. Oh dear, his body language said, one of them. (The Gran Prix is not liked by residents because it tears up the park—although the race hires landscapers to repair it afterwards.) But we continued talking, continued connecting, because we are well-mannered people.

Currently, within the United States manners have been, by some, derided as “political correctness.” They’re not. They are an essential survival tool for a society. When manners go, society goes. Good manners towards another human indicates respect. No, you needn’t agree with their positions on things, but your display of good manners confers to them the respect due to another member of your society and by doing so—and this is key—you also establish to them, your own sense of self respect.

Invariably, rude people are insecure people. As President Obama recently observed about a certain someone who most decidedly lacks good manners, “he pumps himself up by pushing others down.” When we feel threatened—insecure—our instinct is to hit back to force our threatener to feel worse than we do. Ergo, we are not at the bottom anymore!

Manners prevent us from lashing out destructively while we (ideally) work out within ourselves that which is making us feel insecure. The process of working it out is self-responsibility. Accepting self-responsibility is growth. Growth feeds self-respect.

Courage: grace manners under pressure.


Cherish the Ladies

Our cyclocross season began last weekend with Rochester. A Category 1 race on Saturday and a Category 2 on Sunday. From my non-racer perspective, a C1 race means that the officials are Very Attentive about UCI rules. Must be wearing pit pass. Must have right size tires. Must not feed. The first two rules are yadda-yadda. The last is more of a problem. The “No Feeding” rule states that the racers can carry water with them, but cannot be handed water. However, many ‘cross bikes don’t have water bottle cages on them and skinsuits don’t have pockets. Cyclocross is a cold weather sport (theoretically) and the race lasts an hour, so the whole hydration thing isn’t supposed to be an issue. But it is becoming one, due to climate change.

On Saturday, when the Elite Women raced, the heat index was 97 degrees Fahrenheit. After their hour of racing, the women crossed the line for the final time and fell over. Literally. One racer was taken to the hospital for heat stroke. The race organization, seeing the sprawl of bodies, brought over bottles of water and ice. Now it was the Elite Men’s turn to race (they race after the women) and Rochester, a race organization that Gets Things Done, set up a hose to spray the men as they raced by and had people waiting at the finish line, handing out bottles of cold water to the men as they finished. Great! You say.

Not so great, I say. The race organization should have known that the very high heat combined with no water combined with strenuous activity would lead to problems. Why did they wait to see the triage that was the women’s race before instituting adjustments? Why, in a nutshell, were the women the guinea pigs?

The Rochester race organization is superlative and they put on a great race. They would deny this implication of neglect. And I would believe them. Because this casual judgment that women are less valuable than men is insidious. It is certainly not limited to cyclocross racing.

But you have to start somewhere and call it out when you see it. So let’s start here. Women work just as hard as men during the race. Elite athletes are elite athletes. Enough with the casual neglect that speaks of a blind spot.


The Media Room, The Men’s Room, and The Coat Hanger

I feel like I’ve been away for days. Oh, wait, I have been away for days. We left home last Sunday, and here it is now, the following Monday. The van, packed with bikes and wheels and other flotsam, is parked at the Comfort Inn in Pennsylvania, where we are spending the night after 10 hours on the road, having left North Carolina and the 2016 Cyclocross Nationals.

The Biltmore did the Nationals proud. The organization, from my perspective, was perfect; I loved the venue, the Big House, the pits with a view of some of the race, even the mud. Everything operated smoothly until…

I locked the car key in the cab of the rental van. On Sunday, a half-hour before the Elite Women’s race. Since the back of the van was open, this shouldn’t be a big deal. But alas, this cargo van had a metal grate between the cab and the back. Just in case we wanted to transport prisoners, you know.

At first Richie and I thought we’d unscrew the million and a half bolts that held the grate in place. But they were cranky and we didn’t have the time. Then Richie thought about using a long piece of wire to use as a grab hook to ensnare the key (because we could see it plainly enough, on the dashboard.) Only trouble was, no coat hanger. I went to find one.

Nothing at the clothes vendors, nothing in the Van Dessel bus, nothing in the Antler Village shops. I was just on my way to Registration to see if they could contact security, when a man with a media badge intercepted me and told me that he liked reading my blog. Well, that’s a nice thing to hear! I would have loved to talk more, especially since he was telling me about his wife who helped restore the tapestries at Biltmore (and being a weaver, this is fascinating) but I’m afraid I interrupted him, and told him I really needed to find a metal coat hanger. Oh, he said, there’s one in the men’s room of the Media room. We ran to the Media room. I waited in the vestibule as he got the coat hanger. I thanked him–I hope profusely–and ran back to the van. Triumphant, I waved it in the air as I skidded to a stop in front of Richie, who dangled the key in front of me.

“It’s all set,” he said. “I taped two of these wire place markers together and used that.”

I had briefly thought of that as I had glanced at them on my way to find a coat hanger, but I thought the joint would be too wobbly and the key would fall to the floor and become even more inaccessible. So I didn’t try it. Or even mention it. But Richie did, and I admire his willingness to take that chance.

“Faith replaces doubt in my philosophy,” Philippe Petit once said. Wise words, indeed, even for the more mundane challenges in life.



Big House Thursday

I talked Richie into going to the Biltmore House today, since no one on our team was racing. What a treat that was! Of course I had seen photos of the house, and I thought I knew what it would be like inside: cold, drafty, overwhelming in an I’ve-got-tons-of-money sort of way. But it wasn’t. It was actually—and this is hard to comprehend for a two hundred fifty-room house—cozy. We took the audio tour (which I recommend) and I’ve come away with a different idea of rich. More in the noblesse oblige way and I’m not being ironic. Biltmore did, and continues, to provide employment for hundreds of people—today eighteen hundred people work on the estate.

Back in the late nineteenth century, when Biltmore was being constructed, workers were paid well. Stone carvers were paid four dollars a day in an era when four dollars a week was a typical wage. After the house was up and running, each servant was provided with a private, furnished room—unusual for that time. The Vanderbilt’s treated people so well that it was not uncommon for generations of the same family to work at Biltmore.

So maybe you’re thinking that if you’ve inherited millions of dollars, it’s not exactly hurting you to treat people well, but all the same it is a choice. And the fact that these uber-rich people made the choice to promote and nurture rather than to exploit says something about wealth that you maybe don’t see often enough today.


Natz Wednesday

For the drive down, I’ll just give you a few visual impressions: Manhattan backlit against a sparkling Hudson river; crossing over the Appalachian mountains in a snow squall; a prominent confederate flag flying on Tennessee hillside; also in Tennessee, a sign on a building: JESUS IS LORD. WE BUY GUNS. (I hope they don’t vote.) And the respite of Asheville.

The race venue at the Biltmore estate seems to be, so far, impeccable. No traffic jams, we all have parking, signage everywhere so you know where you’re going and how to get there. Our hotel, the Marriot Residence Inn is beyond friendly. They have put out extra hand towels in the lobby for the racers to use on their bikes, along with a nice sign wishing us good luck in the races.

The pits are huge, well laid out, and, the piece de resistance: we have two port-a-potties! We pit people dream of having our own port-a-potties. Oh, the bar is set high, folks.

The watchword for today is friendly. And to underscore that: I was waiting in the line at the catering tent—yes a catering tent—to get a cup of coffee and the person behind me, one Jonathan Ruiz (don’t know if I’ve spelled that right; sorry if I didn’t) recognized Buddy from the Internet, and bought me my coffee. How sweet is that.


Alrighty then. NBX

The big news is that I didn’t freeze my butt off. It was nearly balmy, and for those of you who remember NBX in past years as the coldest, most miserable race of the entire season, this sunny, dry, warm weather was just, well, odd. Didn’t seem like cyclocross, somehow.

So the weather was nice and the hotel was its usual, with the exception of a little Peyton Place sort of thing that will not get discussed any further here. Richie and I shopped at Dave’s for our dinner to bring back to our room—a little ritual of ours; the calm before the storm and we relish this little time. Richie decided to race (darn) so that meant up and out to the course really early, 7:30 am.


I sit in the car, I read a book for review, I walk the dog, I find the coffee truck. I pit for him. I’m the only one. I cheer. Pit 1. Pit 2. Cheer, cheer.

Yay! It’s lunch time! Eat the world’s spiciest taco (but good.) Then to the pit for Elite Women’s race. Libby got a mechanical early on and decided to call it a day. Britt soldiered on. Everyone did well Saturday. On Sunday, Dan came into the pit on the first or second lap. After the world’s longest pit change (because his pit bike wasn’t operational and we had to put a wheel on his racing bike—will not be discussed here) Dan got back on and in Full Russian Frownie Face, joined the race again. I wasn’t optimistic about Dan’s mental competitiveness at that point, but hallelujah, he tried really hard. Of course any moaning he was planning on doing after the race was truncated by Sam’s mishap. With one lap to go and Sam in fourth place!!—he and the metal barrier had words, with the result that Sam, with a puncture wound a half-inch deep, went to the hospital. Thankfully, his best friend’s mother lived a scant five minutes away, and even, better, worked at the hospital. This allowed Richie and I to drive Sam’s car to her house and his father to get on the plane, as intended, to Serbia.


* * *

Anthony Clark won on Sunday and I couldn’t be happier. He deserved that win, and the Verge series title. I don’t know anyone who works as hard and as humbly as he does. And it doesn’t hurt that the photo of him crossing the finish line is just about the best winning-a-race photo I have ever seen.


(couldn’t find who to credit this photo to, sorry.)